Film Review: T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2017 (Edinburgh premiere)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: John Hodge
Based on: Porno and Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Music by: various
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kelly Macdonald, Shirley Henderson

Film4, Creative Scotland, Cloud Eight Films, DNA Films, Decibel Films, TriStar Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“Nostalgia! That’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth. Just ’cause you had a near-death experience and now you’re feeling all fuzzy and warm. What other moments will you be revisiting?” – Simon

It is hard to come back and make a sequel to anything twenty years later but Danny Boyle did just that. He had talked about a Trainspotting sequel almost as long as it has been since the first one in 1996. Originally, he talked about it picking up with these characters nine years later. Well, it actually took just over twenty before we got to see where these guys ended up.

T2 Trainspotting is a much more sober picture than its predecessor but it still matches that original film in style and tone. Granted, it is hard to match the level of darkness that the first film had and really, these characters aren’t in that same sort of chemically induced rut. They still have problems but they’re different problems, even if their old lifestyle still hovers over their heads like a black cloud, always ready to rain down and remind them of where they’ve been and the pain they shared.

The story catches up with Renton and his return to Edinburgh, two decades after he pulled a heist with his friends and double crossed them, taking the money for himself. He has no choice but to return home and in the process, has to try and repair the damage he did. He tries to help Spud and goes into business with Sick Boy, who now just uses his real name: Simon. The real x-factor is Begbie, who may be even more insane than he was twenty years earlier, before spending years in prison.

There are a lot of twists and turns with this film and I might almost call it a neo-noir. There is crime, betrayal and a sort of femme fatale in the mix. Plus, it deals with some pretty dark subject matter and has a pretty impressive visual style.

I like this on the same level that I like the first film but I like them for very different reasons, because even though they deal with he same people, the same place and the same sort of scheming, they are both very different pictures. Danny Boyle did a superb job in resurrecting this world and giving it new life that wasn’t just derivative of the first. Like life, it showed how people evolve and change but are ultimately who they are at their core.

Also, like the first, the film is propelled by the pop music selections of the director. There isn’t a traditional score but there is a real energy running through the film due to the great music Boyle has sewn together from scene to scene.

I don’t think that all Trainspotting fans will enjoy the sequel, as much as I did. It really depends on what you’re looking for in it. But for me, I’m someone that isn’t too far off from the age of these characters. I understand the place they were in twenty years ago and I see how I have evolved in that time and how these characters can and should be different than who they were in their youth.

This film brings Boyle’s original picture full circle and it does leave you with hope for most of these characters. Also, after this second chapter, you feel much more connected and emotionally invested in Renton, Simon and Spud.

Film Review: The Living Daylights (1987)

Release Date: June 29th, 1987 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Glen
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
Based on: characters by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Joe Don Baker, Art Malik, Jeroen Krabbé, John Rhys-Davies, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss

Eon Productions, United International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Believe me, my interest in her is purely professional.” – James Bond

I tend to go against the grain. I usually say things about movies or other pop culture stuff that leaves people baffled. For instance, Timothy Dalton is my favorite James Bond. Yes, he is. And yes, I loved every other actor that played the character and especially have a soft spot for the Connery and Moore chapters in the franchise but Dalton was and always will be my James Bond.

Maybe my love for Dalton is because he was the current Bond when I really got into James Bond movies. The Living Daylights was the first Bond film that I saw in the theater and as a kid, a year later, I was on the set of Licence to Kill in the Florida Keys. I didn’t get to meet Dalton but I got to see him standing around, as James Bond in the flesh.

Unfortunately, due to lawsuits in the early 1990s, Timothy Dalton only got to play James Bond twice: in 1987’s The Living Daylights and in 1989’s superb Licence to Kill. This film is my least favorite of the two but I still thoroughly enjoy it.

The thing that brings this chapter in the Bond franchise down a notch or two, is that it still carries over some of the cheesiness from the Roger Moore era. While that stuff worked for Moore, it really wasn’t a beneficial approach to Dalton’s style as the character. And frankly, it feels as if the movie was written with Roger Moore in mind, before Dalton was cast as the British super spy.

However, some of the hokey bits are still amusing, like the cello case sled scene, for instance.

Another weak point with this film though, is the villains. While I like Joe Don Baker and always have, he just doesn’t feel like a Bond villain. He plays more like a one-off baddie from a show like Magnum P.I. and doesn’t truly feel like someone worthy of Bond’s attention like members of SPECTRE, Francisco Scaramanga, Franz Sanchez, Raoul Silva, Alec Trevelyan, Hugo Draz or hell, even Max Zorin. At least Baker would get a second go in the series when he appeared in two of the Pierce Brosnan films a decade later: Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies.

I did enjoy Maryam d’Abo as the Bond girl in this film. She was a departure from the overly glamorous women of previous movies. Not to say that she wasn’t beautiful and classy but she played a musician, a real artist type. She was cute and sexy but not a supermodel out trying to marry a rock star. She was also sweet and innocent, even though the first time you encounter her, she’s wielding a sniper rifle.

We also get the great John Rhys-Davies in this and I kind of wish that his character would have returned to the series later on. I feel as if he would have been an ally to Bond again, had Timothy Dalton’s run as the character lasted longer than two films. But the man got to team up with James Bond and Indiana Jones in his career, not to mention being a pivotal member of the Fellowship in the The Lord of the Rings movies.

The Living Daylights is a better than average James Bond outing, enhanced by the charm and gravitas that is Timothy Dalton. Plus, the followup to this film would be one of the best in the entire series. The Living Daylights was a good introduction to a really good Bond that we unfortunately didn’t get to see much more of.

Film Review: Trainspotting (1996)

Release Date: February 23rd, 1996 (UK)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: John Hodge
Based on: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Music by: various
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald

Channel Four Films, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Miramax Films, 93 Minutes

Review:

“We took morphine, diamorphine, cyclizine, codeine, temazepam, nitrazepam, phenobarbitone, sodium amytal, dextropropoxyphene, methadone, nalbuphine, pethidine, pentazocine, buprenorphine, dextromoramide, chlormethiazole. The streets are awash with drugs you can have for unhappiness and pain, and we took them all. Fuck it, we would have injected vitamin C if only they’d made it illegal.” – Mark “Rent-boy” Renton

I haven’t watched this film in quite awhile but with its sequel finally coming out, 21 years later, I had to revisit this before seeing the long awaited followup.

Trainspotting, as much as I enjoyed it in my teens and twenties, is a better film than I remembered, seeing it now in my thirties. Or maybe, I just have a bigger appreciation for what’s good in film now that I’m older.

Out of everything that I’ve seen from director Danny Boyle, this is still my favorite of all his films. How does something so stylized feel so real? His use of music and the cinematography he employed create a hip yet gritty world that is very much a product of the 90s while tapping into the vibe of the 80s.

This is also a film that is perfectly cast. Ewan McGregor shines as Rent-boy and his crew are like chaotic satellites crashing into each other and everything else in his orbit.

The film is a perfectly orchestrated mess populated with characters who are tragic, insane, sad and wild but still relatable even in a highly exaggerated state. If you have ever been around real drug addicts, you have experienced these types of characters. Hell, if you went to good parties in high school or college, people like this were everywhere, at least in the 90s when I experienced my youth.

The camerawork in this picture is fantastic and a lot of the shots are mesmerizing, even if they exist in an uncanny level of filth and squalor. The toilet scene is one of the most disgusting things in cinema history but it is so well captured that you can’t look away from it and you have to appreciate the artistry behind it.

Boyle was a guy slightly ahead of the curve. Other directors employed similar techniques in countless attempts to mimic this film but Boyle brought something to the table that set him apart and to this day, still keeps his work, in this picture, far above the imitators.

This is a rough picture to get through if you’re not prepared to truly experience this lifestyle at its lowest. It is rough even if you are prepared but it is a film with a pretty stark message about addiction and how it can literally possess people in the worst ways. It is also about trying to overcome that chemical possession and truly finding a way to live again.

Between the narration, the despicable crew of screwed up youths and the overall style of the film, there are a lot of parallels between this and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. It is easy to see that this film was inspired by that 1971 masterpiece but it is still very much its own thing. There is even a scene in a bar that looks very much like the bar from Clockwork and it almost gives you a sense that maybe this does exist in that world, decades later.

Film Review: Night and the City (1950)

Release Date: June 9th, 1950 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Austin Dempster, William E. Watts
Based on: Night and the City by Gerald Kersh
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers, Herbert Lom, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Mike Mazurki

20th Century Fox, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Harry. Harry. You could have been anything. Anything. You had brains… ambition. You worked harder than any 10 men. But the wrong things. Always the wrong things… ” – Mary Bristol

I was glad that I got to catch this on a recent episode of TCM’s Noir Alley. I wasn’t really familiar with Jules Dassin’s work until recently, while delving deep into the vast ocean that is film-noir.

This film, among the seemingly endless noir-scape, stands out, stands strong and hell, it’s got professional wrestling in it: giving Mike Mazurki a character close to who he actually was and providing a great role for wrestling legend (and former world champion) Stanislaus Zbyszko of the famous Zbyszko wrestling family.

The film primarily stars Richard Widmark and man is he a friggin’ entertaining weasel in this. He is also accompanied by one of the queens of film-noir, Gene Tierney. Unfortunately, she isn’t in this film as much as I would have liked because she is truly an enchantress of the silver screen.

Night and the City follows Widmark’s Harry Fabian, a hustling con man type that is always looking for a way to get to the top, regardless of who he has to screw over in the process. Obviously, he’s a man in over his head, barking up all the wrong trees while digging his own eventual grave. When he starts a scheme involving professional wrestlers, he is in deeper water than he can even fathom.

The film takes place in London and was filmed there due to director Jules Dassin moving to the UK after being blacklisted over communist fears. His career still flourished, even if he had to escape Hollywood and Night and the City is a great example of how the director didn’t miss a beat, despite his misfortune during the McCarthy era witch hunts.

Widmark’s performance is tremendous as he traverses through all the twists and turns in the film’s plot. He has a charm and an insane enthusiasm that almost feels like the gangster version of the comic book Joker before he fell into that vat of acid. Hell, he could have been a great Jack Napier and Joker had they made a Batman film in the 1950s with a serious tone.

The highlight of this film for me was seeing the two wrestling legends square off: Mazurki and Zbyszko. Their physical fight in the film was pretty damn realistic and grueling as hell to witness. It was well shot, well executed and certainly effective.

The cinematography was handled by Max Greene, who had a lot of experience with his work on dozens of films before this. His visuals were accompanied by the great music of Franz Waxman. With Dassin’s direction, we had a Holy Trinity of cinematic masters combining their best efforts on a film that should probably be better remembered than it is, at least outside of film-noir fan circles.

Film Review: The Sleeping Tiger (1954)

Release Date: June 21st, 1954 (London premiere)
Directed by: Joseph Losey
Written by: Derek Frye
Based on: The Sleeping Tiger by Maurice Moiseiwitsch
Music by: Malcolm Arnold
Cast: Alexis Smith, Alexander Knox, Dirk Bogarde

Anglo-Amalgamated Film, 89 Minutes

Review:

“What do you think of him, Glenda? Is he worth saving?” – Dr. Clive Esmond

I haven’t seen a lot of British film-noir, so I figured that I’d give The Sleeping Tiger a shot. Plus, it had a pretty decent rating on IMDb and looked to mostly have positive reviews.

The film’s plot seemed interesting. It’s about a thug that tries to rob a psychiatrist. He fails miserably but the doctor gives him a choice: get arrested or live with the doctor, as he tries to reform the criminal. The thug picks the latter. The doctor’s wife initially hates the arrangement but before you know it, she’s cheating on her husband with the bad boy. Obviously, we then get some hardcore film-noir drama and the thriller aspect of the film comes alive.

Unfortunately, this picture just didn’t resonate with me. It was pretty drab and drawn out and just didn’t excite. I thought the premise was good; the film just didn’t deliver.

The acting was okay but nothing special, the cinematography was average, everything was just sort of bland.

The final moments of the film were fairly good and would have been a good ending to a good noir but I just didn’t care about the weight of it all, as everything leading up to it fell flat.

Joseph Losey, the director, was actually American but he moved to London after Hollywood blacklisted him for being a communist. He had made other film-noir pictures but the only one I’ve seen is The Prowler with Van Heflin. I heard that his remake of Fritz Lang’s M is pretty good though.

Sadly, this film just didn’t do a thing for me but that doesn’t mean I’m not interesting in checking out more of Losey’s work.

Documentary Review: You’re So Cool, Brewster! The Story of Fright Night (2016)

Release Date: December 2nd, 2016
Directed by: Chris Griffiths
Music by: Lito Velasco

Dead Mouse Productions, 217 Minutes, 146 Minutes (Condensed version)

Review:

If you don’t like Fright Night, we can’t be friends. I mean, seriously, it’s a hell of a good time and was a much needed return to traditional monsters in a decade ruled by slasher films.

This long documentary covers everything you could ever want to know about Fright Night and it even goes into its mostly unappreciated sequel.

The coolest thing about this film and what I love about these modern documentaries about old horror franchises, is getting to revisit the cast and creators all these years later.

It may seem bizarre to have a documentary that is much longer than the subject matter it is discussing but a lot goes into filmmaking and this documentary doesn’t leave a single stone unturned. You get candid looks at the special effects, props making, creature makeup and how certain sequences were shot.

The interviews with the cast, the director and all the other key people were really the best part of this film though. It was especially cool seeing William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse and Stephen Geoffreys in 2016. Geoffreys’ bits I liked because it showed the man himself and how different he is from the Evil Ed persona. He also discusses how he was apprehensive about performing certain aspects of the character.

Tom Holland, the director, discussed at length about how the whole project came to be, as well as shedding light on what lead him to it.

If you are a fan of the original Fright Night or you’re hardcore and love the whole franchise, this is certainly worth checking out.

Film Review: Madhouse (1974)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1974 (San Francisco)
Directed by: Jim Clark
Written by: Ken Levinson, Greg Morrison
Based on: Devilday by Angus Hall
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Adrienne Corri, Natasha Pyne, Michael Parkinson, Linda Hayden, Barry Dennen

Amicus Productions, American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Miss Peters, as they say in horror movies, you will come to a bad end.” – Paul Toombes

American International Pictures and Amicus Productions, two great B-movie horror studios of their day, teamed up to bring us Madhouse. It also teams up two of their biggest horror stars, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. It doesn’t end there though, as the film features Count Yorga himself, Robert Quarry, and Hammer Horror ladies Adrienne Corri and Linda Hayden.

Coming out a year after the Vincent Price starring Theater of Blood, this film shares a lot of similarities with it. Both movies deal with an actor that is tied to the murders of several people around him. In Theater of Blood Price played a stage actor. In this, he is a horror movie icon most known as a character called Dr. Death. The people who die in this film are killed by someone dressed as Dr. Death. Is it Price committing the crimes or is it someone else trying to drive him mad?

While this isn’t the best work Price or Cushing did in their long careers, it is still a fun and entertaining ride for ninety minutes. Plus, seeing Price and Cushing share the screen is never a bad thing.

I really like the character of Dr. Death and it would have been cool seeing this spinoff into some Dr. Death movies but they never really thought like that back in the 1970s. The filmmakers created a character that could have been a cool brand, all to himself. Plus, at this point, Price didn’t have a permanent vehicle like he did in the 1960s with those Edgar Allan Poe pictures he cranked out annually with Roger Corman.

This is a violent whodunit mystery and it very much plays like an Italian giallo picture but without the vivid colorful flourishes. Still, it feels giallo in spirit, as it is a good prototype for the slasher formula and features a cool mysterious killer with an even cooler outfit. And like a giallo, it has hints of noir in its story, although it is lacking the noir visual style. Had this film been a bit more stylish, it could have actually been something exceptional.

Madhouse is still pretty good and I like it a bit more than the more popular Theater of Blood. But really, the two films are just good companion pieces to one another and also play well as a double feature.